Puriben Vaghabhai Ahir

Craft, Handloom, Art, Craftspersons/ Artisanal, Interviews, Conversations

Puriben Vaghabhai Ahir: A Life Transformed by Craft

Tyabji, Laila

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Last year at an World Conference in Australia, a diminutive little woman with soft, sparkling eyes, dressed in her customary handspun channia, backless choli and ordhna, stood before an international audience of environmentalists and gave them beans! Puriben is illiterate and she speaks neither English or Hindi; but she eloquently conveyed not just the poverty and need of her community, but the strength and pride of its cultural and social tradition - as well as its marginalisation and exploitation. Her embroidery is currently touring the UK as part of a Victoria and Albert Museum exhibit; Puriben herself is a local leader and a member of the SEWA Governing Council. When the conferences and kudos are over, Puriben goes back to her one room, mud brick home in Vauva village, milks her cows, makes rotla for her family on a charcoal stove and helps bring in the harvest - in the intervals she stitches at the mirrorwork that has transformed her life. Born 40 years ago in the desolate, dry, salty wastes of the Banaskantha desert, Puriben Vaghabhai Ahir was one of 5 children in a pastoral Ahir community forced to migrate in search of work and livelihood by periodic drought. She never learnt to read and write. “Even my brothers didn’t go to school. Since I was the eldest, I used to look after the cattle, take them their food and grazing. When I was 10 years old I started hel...
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